Opinion: Marketplace of ideas

Shawn Mercer

Shawn Mercer

Shawn Mercer is a sophomore integrated life sciences major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

During my short time at Kent State, I have been able to learn a fair amount of book knowledge. I have a good grasp on the bits of information that might appear on a multiple-choice test. If given the choices A through D, picking out the correct answer would not be difficult.

I have also fostered another type of knowledge during my time at Kent: the kind that allows me to articulate a point of view and defend it. This knowledge allows me to reflect on what others say and respond to them in a coherent way. This knowledge I have obtained has encouraged me to think critically. This is what college is meant to do. Most everything else can be learned via a quick search of Wikipedia.

Here are a few things I have learned when making exchanges in a marketplace of ideas:

We must understand that sometimes we might encounter ideas that make us uncomfortable or even sick to our stomach. We might be offended so fundamentally that we feel like we have been wronged or as if something must be done to silence the other side. This is the wrong response.

We do not have a right to not be offended. Most ideas, at their core, can be taken offensively. Instead of feeling outraged, we must try to understand why someone holds this idea and, if we think they are wrong, tell them; explain to them why we hold a contrary belief, not just that their belief is incorrect.

The public square should be open to everyone. The world is constantly changing and not everybody is aware of it. Decisions right now are being made on gun control, the role of drones, immigration, etc. To inform others of different viewpoints or to protest the seemingly unjust, the public square needs to be a place where the old meets the new, and where we can learn about each other.

We ought not to hold someone else’s beliefs against them. We can easily qualify people as stupid, bigoted, ignorant or uninformed from an unpopular belief they may hold. We tend to label people in an effort to disqualify them from the conversation. By doing so, we functionally shut down the conversation by privileging our views above all others.

We do not know everything. If we act as if we cannot learn from others in a meaningful way, then we have limited our understanding of the world severely. We learn from our own experiences, and in devaluing the experiences of others, we cannot hope to avoid their mistakes.

We are all people. We must respect this. We never have the right to force somebody to believe what we believe or to harm them if they do not conform. There have been enough people burned, beaten, stoned and lynched over the years to satisfy any desire we have to do so now. With this in mind, we should allow any kind of discourse, as long as the ideas expressed are not compulsory.